- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 25, 2001

Israeli Likud leader Ariel Sharon yesterday laid out a tough line for future talks with the Palestinians, saying he would never negotiate as long as his nation was threatened by the kind of violence that has raged since September.

The pledge offered a stark contrast with the policy of Prime Minister Ehud Barak, whose government prepared to resume talks today in Taba, Egypt, after a brief interruption in the wake of the brutal killings of two Israelis.

"When I will be prime minister, one of my red lines will be that we will not negotiate under pressure of terrorism or violence," Mr. Sharon, the runaway favorite in the Feb. 6 election, said in a satellite news conference with American reporters.

Mr. Sharon said from Tel Aviv that there was no point in negotiating with the Palestinians as long as they were bent on violence. With "the terrible incitement in the Palestinian media, you can't expect peace," he said.

But the former general sounded some conciliatory notes in the forum organized by the Council on Foreign Relations, saying he had lived among Arabs since he was a child and that he hoped to live together with them in peace.

Mr. Sharon, who leads in opinion polls by 20 points with just 12 days to go before the balloting, said he would offer the Palestinians economic development and an improvement in their living conditions if they abandoned violence.

"As a Jew, I know it is not easy to be a Palestinian. We have to take steps to make the Palestinians' lives easier," he said.

Mr. Sharon said he welcomed U.S. help in "bridging" differences or bringing the two sides together. But, he said, "basically it should be [up to] the two sides to negotiate and to decide" on peace terms.

President Bush yesterday made telephone calls to the leaders of three traditionally pro-American Arab states, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan, the White House said.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer told reporters that the calls "were introductory in nature and underscore the strong relations the United States has with these nations."

Secretary of State Colin Powell also has spoken with Mr. Barak and yesterday talked to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. But U.S. officials have not participated in the Taba talks, a change from the Clinton administration's close involvement in earlier negotiations.

Mr. Sharon, who once argued strenuously against permitting a Palestinian state, said yesterday that such a state was being created "in Judaea and Samaria," using the ancient names for the West Bank region.

"We are the only nation in the world ready to give up our cradle, part of our history, to reach peace."

Mr. Sharon also proposed a step-by-step process toward a non-belligerency pact if the Palestinians end violence. But he said Jerusalem, which would remain undivided and under Israeli control, and he rejected a demand for the return to Israel of more than 3 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

He said if he wins the Feb. 6 vote, he will immediately form a national-unity government with Labor and other parties aimed at including the views of secular and Orthodox Jews, the right and the left, Israeli Arabs and diaspora Jews.

"We are looking for peace," said Mr. Sharon, a former minister of defense and foreign affairs who turned the tide of the 1973 Yom Kippur War by leading an armored column across the Suez Canal on a pontoon bridge and threatening to move toward Cairo.

"I participated in all the wars of the state of Israel, always in the hardest part of the war," he said. "I know all the horrors… . I lost my best friends in battle."

Mr. Sharon said the Camp David talks failed last summer because Mr. Barak had openly stated his final offer on land and other concessions, which became "the starting point" for the Palestinian negotiators and led to an impasse.

Mr. Sharon said his peace plan would be "timeless" and depend not on meeting deadlines, but on "a list of expectations," including "steps taken by the Palestinian Authority against the infrastructure of terrorist organization.

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